JOHN PAUL II
The Lord, Creator of the World, protects his people
1. The Canticle of praise we have just recited (Jdt 16,1-7) is attributed to Judith, a heroine who became the pride of all the women of Israel, because it was her mission to demonstrate the liberating power of God at a dark moment in the life of his people. The Liturgy of Lauds gives us only a few verses to recite. They invite us to celebrate, to sing with a full voice, play drums and cymbals, to praise the Lord "who crushes wars" (v. 2).
The last expression, which defines the true countenance of God, who loves peace, introduces us into the world of ideas in which the hymn was conceived. It was about a victory which the Israelites won in a totally amazing way, a work of God who intervened to rescue them from the prospect of an impending and total defeat.
So he refers to what happened to Israel, when Nebuchadnezzar, irritated by this people's failure to cooperate with his expansionist plans and idolatrous claims, sent the general Holofernes with the specific order to subdue and annihilate them. No one would dare to resist him who claimed the honours of a god. His general, who shared his presumption, derided the warning he was given not to attack Israel, because it would amount to attacking God himself.
In reality, the sacred author wants to emphasize this principle, to confirm believers of his time in faithfulness to the God of the covenant: one must have confidence in God. The true enemy that Israel must fear, are not the powerful ones of the earth, but infidelity to the Lord. This is what deprives them of God's protection and makes them vulnerable. Otherwise, when they are faithful, the people can count on the power of God "wonderful in his power and unsurpassable" (v. 13).
The situation described in the words of Judith is like others lived by Israel, in which salvation arrived when there seemed to be no way out. Was not the salvation of Exodus with its miraculous passage through the Red Sea also like this? Now too the siege by a powerful and numerous army removed all hope. But all this does but manifest the power of God, who is revealed as the invincible protector of his people.
4. The work of God appears even more gloriously since he did not rely on a warrior or an army. As happened before, in the time of Deborah, he eliminated Sisera through Jael, a woman (Jgs 4,17-21), now he makes use of an unarmed woman to come to the aid of his people in trouble. Strong in faith, Judith enters the enemy camp, charms the commander with her beauty and kills him in a humiliating way. The Canticle strongly underlines this fact: "The Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman. For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of young men, nor did the sons of Titans smite him, nor did the tall giants set upon him: but Judith the daughter of Merari undid him with the beauty of her countenance" (Jdt 15,5-6).
Judith is example of woman's mission and prefiguration of Mary's cooperation in redemption
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from England, Scotland, Canada, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.